When the quarantine began, I had lofty expectations for myself. I was going to be home all the time! How wonderful! There would be so much time to do all the things!
Theoretically, yes, there is time. So much time. But while being a “quarantine queen” was initially the top goal on my list, now the priority is just managing to keep myself together enough to get through the day. As much as I want to be that woman who is killing it, I can’t seem to summon up whatever energy or courage I need to be her. And even though it’s hurting me, I’m learning that it’s okay.
I see friends posting on social media about how they’re totally crushing it. One friend is baking all the bread, caring for her kids, and still managing to write thousands of words a day. Some are setting up elaborate homeschool situations for their kids. Others are cooking up a storm in their kitchen like they’re Ina Garten. I’m sure someone’s turned their yard into a freaking obstacle course for their kids. I’m doing none of the above.
My days look like feeding my kid breakfast and getting back in bed. Our tiny apartment is a mess of toys. There are days when my kiddo doesn’t get out of his pajamas. Power Rangers has become the soundtrack to my dreams. Of course there are good days when I feel like I can actually do things, but most of the time I’m running on autopilot even more than usual.
“It is perfectly normal and appropriate to feel bad and lost during this initial transition,” writes Dr. Aisha Ahmad in The Chronicle of Higher Education. Many of us have only been in quarantine for about a month. While that feels like an obscenely long time (it is!), in the grand scheme of things, it’s very small. Right now, no one knows how long this is going to last. Many of us are preparing for months of being in the house. So when you look at it that way, one month isn’t really that long. Using this month to just survive is not only normal, but beneficial. This is going to be a marathon, not a sprint.
Generally, I don’t suffer from FOMO. I like my little bubble and I exist pretty happily. But this quarantine has turned me into an FOMO monster. I’m suddenly jealous of everyone I see who isn’t mere minutes from falling apart like I am. Which of course only makes me spiral even further into the depths of anxiety that I’m not doing more with my time, that I’m not being more to the people in my life. I’m a shell of my normal self, which is a shell of the self I wish I was. This whole situation just makes me even harder on myself. It’s a vicious cycle.
For all the good it does, social media can be a terrible thing right now. Sure, it’s great for keeping up with our friends. But when you see your friends constantly posting about what they’re doing, it’s easy to fall into the trap of comparing yourself to your more “productive” friends. It’s not healthy, though. Everyone copes with big changes differently. Some people bake banana bread while others struggle to get out of bed. There’s really no wrong answer here. As Dr. Ahmad advises, “ignore everyone who is posting productivity porn on social media right now.”
My time was going to be spent reading books, getting my work done on time, and making sure that my son was still thriving. Well, it’s been a month, and pretty much none of that is happening. Well, at least none of the personal growth stuff. My focus is shot to shit. Even though I want to be doing things like reading a new book or turning in assignments before they’re due, I simply can’t. I’m in a perpetual fog, barely making it from day to day.
Feeling like this makes it really easy for me to give myself a hard time. Seeing yet another friend making a perfect sourdough loaf or participating in yet another Zoom happy hour makes my heart ache. I desperately want to be the person I thought I’d be at the beginning of this. To be thriving instead of barely surviving. I’m trying to have a little patience with myself. I know not everyone is going to be “queen” of quarantine, even if they really want to be. That may be hard to hear, but it’s okay to just be getting through the day and calling that an accomplishment.
Taking the time to truly move through the disappointment and trauma that we’re all dealing with is critical. The only way we’ll be able to smash our quarantine goals — or even begin to approach them — is to let go of any preconceived notions we have about productivity. A mental shift is key in being able to make a life shift. Currently, I’m mourning the loss of all the things I was looking forward to. When you’re still holding on to that stuff, it makes it hard to mentally shift into the new normal.
But another important thing is that you truly feel this shift. It’s easy to try and “fake it till you make it” when you’re feeling like you’re drowning. However, you’re still drowning. Being honest with yourself and others is the only way you’re going to float. We need to embrace authenticity right now. Simply putting on an air of productivity for the sake of appearances isn’t only a lie, it’s harmful to your progress.
When you run across “productivity porn” on your social media that makes you feel inadequate, remember this: It’s so easy to share the good moments. To highlight the amazing home-cooked dinner but hide the unfolded laundry that’s been sitting for three weeks. You’re only seeing a tiny, productive sliver of someone’s life, not the bigger (and probably messier) picture.
Of course you want people to think you’re killing it — but that isn’t important right now. Preparing yourself for the long term is the big difference to pretending to be a quarantine queen and actually being one.
For now, I’m going to stop berating myself for not sticking with my self-imposed schedule. So what if I can’t read right now? Pretty soon I will be able to. And instead of wishing I could bake a perfect loaf of bread, I will. Okay, I won’t, but only because it’s impossible to get bread flour and yeast right now. But I will tackle that new chocolate chip cookie recipe I found.
Today, tomorrow, or even for the next week, it’s okay if all you manage to do is get out of bed and feed everyone. If you’re gentle with yourself, you’ll be killing it soon enough.